Looking to improve your classroom special education? Maybe you’re a classroom teacher looking how to better support your students with IEPs (individualized learning plans), or, maybe you’re a case manager seeking out strategies to provide more push-in inclusive services in the regular education classroom environment. These strategies are also helpful for those who are working in a self-contained or specialty classroom. It doesn’t matter where you teach, you have students who need so much! With these strategies for classroom special education, you will be able to level your classroom management and adapt your instruction while building an invaluable relationship with every child in your room.
Every child is different and therefore requires a little bit of a different education! How can you possibly give every child instruction at their level? Think of all the lesson planning, data collection, and classroom management. Sounds overwhelming – doesn’t it. I’ve gone through the hard times and I’m here to share my knowledge with you. I’ve created this must-have guide for small group instruction! With these 7 tips, small groups will become a breeze and you will see massive student growth because each child is truly receiving individualized education! Grab the free guide here!
Why You Need a Vision for Your Special Education Classroom
When I first started teaching in an inclusive classroom (50% of my students had identified academic disabilities), I modeled everything I saw. If it was on Pinterest and I liked it – it was in my room. New activity on Instagram? Let’s do it! That teacher next door has a killer bulletin board? Sounds great! Soon my classroom was a mix of everything and anything and in that mix, my students and I were lost.
I was constantly rearranging things, replanning different activities, and focusing more on what people saw outside rather than the work on the inside. I spent more time than ever in my classroom and yet, my students weren’t making improvements and their behaviors increased. We were all becoming frustrated.
While venting to a co-worker about my special education classroom they asked “Why are you doing this activity?” My answer: “Because it looked fun and it works on letters”. They gave me a funny look and responded “If you’re constantly changing everything, your special education students will never be able to predict what’s coming.” At that moment, a light bulb went off. I had no vision for my room or my students, everything I saw entered my classroom. There was no guiding light, nothing to keep me or my students focused. Once I took the time to create a vision for my classroom special education instruction became much easier.
Take the Time to Reflect on Your Classroom
When creating a vision for your classroom, first take the time to reflect. What aspects of your special education instruction do you enjoy? What’s working? Be sure to ask your students too! Do they like a particular area of the room? Is everyone most productive during a specific time of day? Close your eyes and use the guiding questions below to envision your ideal classroom special education environment. What does it look, sound, and feel like? It can even be in multiple places! Have a vision for services that occur in your classroom and services that occur as a push in service in another environment. Setting a clear vision will help you make informed choices as you design your classroom rules for special education.
Guiding Questions for Classroom Special Education Reflection
- What is my favorite part of the day?
- Think about the student’s favorite part of the day.
- What time of day is most productive? Why?
- Which part of the classroom is my favorite?
- Which part of the classroom is the students’ favorite?
- What do I value?
- What do my students value?
- Review the needs of your students.
- How do I envision meeting their educational goals?
Classroom Management Special Education
Once you have a vision for your classroom special education, you can make a clear and easy-to-follow classroom management plan. Your plan should fit on a single page, and be simple enough for all students to not only follow but recite! Generally, these are also considered classroom rules for classroom special education. When creating your classroom management special education plan (or rules) you want the rules to be simple enough for staff and students to remember, and follow, but broad enough they cover almost any event that can occur in your classroom.
After you’ve determined your classroom rules for special education students, think about your space. What materials can students access independently? Which ones should be tucked away? Do your students have mobility concerns? Arranging your special education environment is a key part of a successful classroom special education. This is particularly true if you are working in an inclusive regular education environment. How can you arrange your classroom so special education students can easily access the materials they need? Have common resources like number strips, word walls, and alphabet posters readily accessible and directly teach when and how to access these materials. Resources are only as good as the student who is using them!
Small group instruction is a key component to successful classroom management special education. Small groups allow you to easily level your instruction, collect data, and meet the needs of all students. This is a great resource for classroom management during small group instruction!
Classroom Rules for Special Education Students
My classroom for special education has three rules (yes, three!): Be safe, be kind, and take care of our things. Anything, and I mean anything, falls into these three rules. They are simple enough for all students and staff to remember yet broad enough for all possible undesired scenarios to fall into.
When creating your classroom rules for special education students, go back to your vision. How will your rules support your vision? Remember: your students create your classroom special education environment. How do your rules allow for their personalities to shine and independence to grow?
After creating broad and simple rules, be sure to post them where they are clearly visible. This ensures any student or teacher in your space understands the expectations of the special education environment. Dedicate the first 2-3 weeks of your special education instruction to these rules and expectations and review them often. This is especially important if you are an out-of-classroom service provider! As children transition throughout their day, they need consistency and routine. Having clear expectations ensures the group stays on task, even if they are in different classrooms a majority of the day.
Incorporating Special Education into your Classroom
It can seem daunting to incorporate special education into your classroom, but providing leveled activities benefits all learners! Making small changes to help students identified with academic impairment benefits all students. As you make changes and adapt the curriculum and instruction you are differentiating the child’s education. Here you can learn 5 easy ways to differentiate education on the spot!
When thinking of classroom special education, start with one main activity. Then adapt the activity to be easier or harder. Remember: special education isn’t only for students who struggle! Gifted students who work beyond the grade level curriculum also fall into the special education umbrella.
The most effective ways to incorporate special education into your classroom are whatever strategies you will use consistently. Here are the materials I like to have handy: highlighters (for marking important directions or tracing), blank paper (to cover overstimulating work or draw models), visuals and fidgets. These tools should be available to all students in your room – not just those with special education needs!
Other small changes to support classroom education include: preferred seating, having a quiet space, incorporating choice into routine activities, and drawing visuals whenever possible.
Working with a Special Education Team
Working with a special education team is crucial to classroom special education! Each child with a special education plan has a team that features a variety of professionals who provide unique insight into the child’s strengths and struggles. An occupational therapist may provide insight into the best seating options, while a speech pathologist can show you visual cues to help a child’s articulation or mastery of letter-sound knowledge. It can be challenging to work in large teams at times, especially when personalities and ideologies differ. When you face a challenge within your team here are steps you can do to encourage collaboration over competition or confrontation.
Strategies to Solve Conflict with a Special Education Team
- Take a step back to breathe and reflect. Ask yourself: Why does [this decision] make me feel this way?
- Try to look at the situation from the other team member’s perspective. Remember: they have the students’ best interest in mind too. Why do they view [their option] as a good choice for the student?
- Research. Search for peer-reviewed articles that relate to your scenario. Sites like google scholar or EBCHOST are free to use! Your school and local library may also have access to more peer-reviewed research databases
- Listen to the knowledge of others.
- Share the research and what you’ve learned
- Decide. The team has had time to listen and explore all options. You need to decide so the child can move forward with their educational experience.
- Respect & Move Forward. Regardless of the decision went “your way” or not, know that every team member has the interest of the student at the core. Respect the decision the team came to and move forward with the student.
Classroom Teacher and Special Educator
The classroom teacher and special educator have a crucial relationship when thinking about student success. When these teachers work together seamlessly, the student can much easier transfer what they learn in the special education setting into the classroom environment. Or, if the special educator is providing services in the classroom, they can support the student’s independence and growth through purposeful and functional activities.
Small Groups: Your Answer to Easy Classroom Special Education
As a classroom teacher and/or special educator you have to meet the needs of a large number of students. The most efficient (and data shows the most effective!) method of instruction is small groups. This allows the educator to tailor the tasks to the student’s level while still encouraging peer-to-peer learning. Learn why small group instruction is key to student success here!
Don’t Forget the Data!
After taking the time to create your (and your students) ideal classroom special education it is important to track student growth to evaluate the environment’s effectiveness. You can track student academic growth, student attitudes, student independence, student use of space. Give yourself and your students at least 6 weeks (but maybe even closer to 12!) to adjust to the new environment and expectations while taking data and seeing how the space is working.
Be Flexible with your Classroom Special Education
It can be hard to hear after investing so much time and heart into your classroom special education but your classroom is not set in stone. By nature, it should be flexible to adapt to your students as they grow throughout the year. Use the data to guide your decisions throughout the year as you make the best classroom education!
Your Answer to Classroom Special Education
If you’re struggling with classroom special education, try small groups! They make management, instruction, and data collection easier while taking less time to plan. Use this free guide to get a jump start on your small group instruction today!